On Tuesday evening I spent hours watching the news. One of the most interesting things I saw, a small ray of light within all the destruction, was a statement describing how computer simulations predicted floodings in Manhattan with an outstanding accuracy, literally down to meters. Whatever was predicted to be under water was indeed flooded by as much water as the models foresaw. Different computer simulations did an incredible job at predicting the trajectory and intensity of the storm, including the weird left turn it took ashore of Atlantic City – maybe it felt like trying luck at the casinos… -.

Everyone acknowledged the great job of the many engineers behind such research and projects that provide us with accurate storm tracking and prediction systems. Things like this make me proud to be an engineer. Good job guys!

The IEEE Spectrum Magazine, in its online edition, just published an article describing the great effort and success behind the tools that made possible to predict Sandy. Check it out here.

In 2009, the U.S. National Weather Service set ambitious goals—to improve the accuracy of forecasts of hurricane tracks and intensity by 20 percent by 2014 and by 50 percent by 2019. Last year for the first time, in modeling Hurricane Irene, the National Weather Service was able to incorporate data from flying planes through the storm directly into the simulations of the storm’s progress. Adding that detailed data from inside the storm, and other advances, meant that the 48-hour forecast of Hurricane Irenewas just as accurate as a 24-hour forecast had been a decade earlier.

And the advance forecast of Hurricane Sandy, now heading for the east coast of the United States, should be even more accurate, thanks to a couple of advances in modeling that earlier this year moved from the research laboratories into operational use as part of the U.S. Global Forecast System (GFS). (Other countries run their own models; for example, Europe has a model called the ECMWF Model and the United Kingdom has UKMET Office Model.)